I’ll testify that one can have an enviable wardrobe, cool furniture and a well-outfit kitchen for less than 5% of what most American’s spend. How? By patronizing the thrift market and exploring other, less conventional means. I value reused products. I’ll troll urban alleys and pick through dumpsters (uh, let’s use the nomenclature “urban reclamation”). Quick with a power sander and armed with a little bit of fortitude, I’ve refinished most of the furniture in our 1,800 square foot 111-year-old home. All this done without a super hero mask.
How do I accomplish this? With a little patience and frequent, 10-minute surgical strikes to thrift outlets while running weekly errands. I also shop with a Flinch Point and strive to stick to my family’s current and future needs.
There’s another fact that makes my lifestyle possible. Denver isn’t among the nation’s top ten most populated cities, but it thrives with one of the nation’s top reuse markets. This makes a big difference, at least for now. I know Seattle and Portland can also boast to be vibrant centers of reuse.
For an assortment of reasons the reuse market needs the attention of Offices of Economic Development at the municipal, state and hopefully national levels. I’ve written to elected officials. Rarely do I hear back, mostly with form letter.
The charitable reuse market, with infrastructure in place, is waiting for some great public promo. But, so few Americans go to them, as I discussed in an opinion in The Christian Science Monitor nearly two years back. I’m not certain any critical mass of economists have dared ask the simple question, “What percentage of Americans shop thrift stores, and what is the benefit to our economy?” It would be refreshing to see our universities’ economic departments offer courses that address the reuse market. Or, would major benefactors balk in retaliation?
Promoting a robust reuse market in America isn’t trivial. Neither Mom and Pop thrift stores nor charitable thrift stores have the big bucks to hire slick lobbyists to stand on the steps of the US Capitol, pull elected officials aside and give them Wet Willies, or even a respectable wedgie to open their ears (and mouths) to start promoting – let alone tackling some minor legislation - to grow the reuse market.
Even the Professional Association of National Resalers isn’t so appetizing. No offense guys, but your acronym is NARTS. What does that rhyme with?
It’s near impossible to have the charitable thrift industry get behind reuse and drive the market. Thrift stores are simply funding their programs to aid America’s growing disadvantaged by providing an alternative to mindless consumerism.
There’s a very strong irony in play. More of us are inflicting our own economic disadvantage from years of carelessly participating in an Economy of Crap ushering in The Harbingers of Decline. We as consumers should know better. Participating in the non-mainstream market is like preventive medical care – it leads directly to personal and economic well- being. If the current thrift industry invested more in growing the reuse market they would actually prevent more people from needing programs for the economically deprived.
Millions of us are already unemployed and economically deprived thanks to disasters like the fox guarding the henhouse debacle of Enron, cutesy mortgage credit default swaps, and larger banks clinging to Federal bailout funds to push profits (and fund bonuses) instead of lending money as intended. Didn’t we learn anything from the savings and loan debacle from the ‘80’s? Why do Americans shop and vote like they are ignorant, happy-go-lucky millionaires?
How I’d love to see consumer incentives that make thrift sales exempt from sales taxes. Or incentives/subsidies in the form of lower rate retail leases for repurposing stores in or near heavily trafficked shopping centers. I dream of seeing a high-end Goodwill next to J.Crew, so shoppers can contrast value side by side. How about incentives for stores that sell “new” merchandise, mix in some “reused”? Little boutiques do it. Why not bigger stores? Oh, I’m full of dreams and ideas on pushing re-use. I may be scrappy, but my voice is paltry against the noisy American Retail Machine, in a nation that exploits most of the world’s limited natural resources and sustains this bogus activity on mounds of growing credit, mostly in the form of debt.
Perhaps I should contact Denver’s Office of Tourism and urge them to promote “Thrift Shopping Vacations” to the Mile High City. Good grief, hoards of shoppers visit Minneapolis simply to go to the Mall of America! Say what? I’ve no doubt that the Talbot’s, Banana Republic, Gap, etc are not all that different from those in the town you live in. If you must, you can pay the airfare, lodging penalty and make your offerings to the food court gods and see for yourself. While you do that with your family, I’ll make a few mortgage payments.
For now, all I can say is we have to be our own advocates of reuse. If we want a stronger alternative market, it probably best to actively participate in the one that’s already there. That’s how the market works, even if it desperately needs an accelerant.
Too skimpy of a market? In some places, sure. Use your voice, urging people in your community to purge their homes (and lives) of stuff they no longer need nor use, and donate. The reality is the inventory is already in or near your town, it’s just sitting in private homes, not the shelves of your local thrift store. Urge those around you preparing estate sales to donate goods to the thrift cause. Instead of waiting for winter to pass to have a yard sale, donate items now. Thrift stores are like year-round yard sales! Proceeds from the sale will not be cash in hand but will come at the end of the year in a very refreshing tax write off
Re-use is common sense. It hasn’t been that long ago in 20th century American history that trafficking in used goods was considered o-so-gauche. “Use only new” is merely a marketed tactic for Wall Street to raise profits. By comparison, do even a minor amount of online research and find out how used goods are viewed in other developed countries, like France.
I don’t have a problem with corporate profits, per se. I really don’t. We’ll always have new goods. But, when crap is being pushed on shaky grounds, shaky credit, with cooked books and on a planet that needs to find more ways to address environmental sustainable practices, I think we need to rethink our priorities.
Comments from this post sprouted three more posts: "Myth-stakes", "Am I just a bottom feeder of conspicuous consumption?" and "Am I a blog snob?".